Mali’s Minister of Digital Economy, Communication and Information, Mamadou Camara, sheds light on a number of issues pertaining to the country’s position. He spoke to Celhia de Lavarene.
Q: Officially, neither the president nor the French, nor the Minusma were aware of the attack launched by the Malian forces. Any comments?
A: I rely on the facts. I rely on the realities and the relations we have with our partners – the Minusma and France, who has paid the price of blood to come and liberate Mali. Without the French soldiers, we do not know where we would be today.
France is an ally of Mali. I’d like to remind you that Mali has never been at war with the Tuareg who are a community like the Bambaras, Sonrhais, Soninkés, Peuls or the Malinkés. Mali is composed of a multitude of ethnic groups and communities who have always lived together. Admittedly, since the 60s, there have been regular rebellions, most often carried out by the Tuareg.
But let me say that the overwhelming majority of the Tuareg community is pro- Republican, pacifist and is only asking to live in peace in Mali. And with more social and economic development of course. Those who take up arms are an ultra-minority. Since the president was elected, we have chosen to focus on dialogue.
The Ouagadougou Agreement reiterated the inviolable principle of the territorial integrity of Mali. It included measures of trust resulting in the release of some prisoners, the lifting of the warrant of arrest for some people who were not convicted of violent crimes or drug trafficking.
Armed groups were to dissociate themselves from the terrorists. The National Republican Army is the only one authorised to use force. These groups signed the agreement but did not respect their word.. The government has met its commitments.
We have been in a dynamic on dialogue. We held the National Conference of the North, which intended to bring together community leaders, local elected officials, administrators and even representatives of armed groups. The meeting, held in Bamako in October, has been relocated in various cities of the North of the country so that people understand each other.
They are able to analyse what happened and to find ways for this to never happen again. We held the General Meetings for decentralisation.
The aim was to solve the problem of irredentism in the North and bring the State closer to all citizens who will have autonomy to manage their everyday affairs. For this purpose, we will soon organise regional elections.
They are free to decide to build schools, bridges, wells, health centres. The argument “the State has forgotten us,” can no longer apply. We have always been in a process of dialogue with the signatories of the Ouagadougou Agreement.
We will not discuss with terrorists. We are more than embarrassed to see that once again, the MNLA abets terrorists. We know that the attack on the prime minister’s delegation to Kidal came from the MNLA and terrorists. We know this because there were jihadists banners accompanied by slogans that are theirs.
This is not acceptable. We advocate dialogue as long as they recognise the territorial integrity of Mali and they clearly dissociate themselves from terrorist groups.
Q: The training lavished by the French military does not seem to have born fruit in the light of the collapse of the Malian army on May 17. What do you think?
A: The Malian army was trained by the European Union, which is composed of different European nations, including France. We came a long way. The country was attacked in January 2012. The army lost the control of two-thirds of our territory. This means that we had a defence tool that was not able to defend the country.
It takes time to rebuild the defence apparatus, to train, equip and rearm our soldiers. Today the defence is the second budget item after education. We are aware of the work that remains to be done, and we are determined to achieve the goals we have set ourselves. The whole people of Mali are mobilised behind the army.
Q: As always in conflict, civilians paid the heaviest price. In this case, it is the people of Kidal and all those who have fled clashes between the Malian armed forces and armed groups. How will you explain that the fault lies with the Malian government for not having made the right decisions?
A: Even before the visit of the prime minister, there was a desire of the government to approach the Malian population, to understand their problems and to better meet their expectations. We cannot stay in Bamako saying “we will develop the North” without knowing what is happening there.
This visit, which had been prepared and known to all, began in Timbuktu, and continued to Gao. The third step was Kidal. The mission was to reinstall the administration. His convoy was attacked. This is unacceptable. This is the prime minister of a legitimate government of a sovereign country. The attack was condemned by the entire international community.
Q: How do you see the future of Mali? Do you think peace is still possible despite jihadist groups based in Kidal?
A: Absolutely. We are engaged in this way because the vast majority of Malians want peace, including those who live in the north and the Tuareg community. Those who want war are a minority. They won’t take us into this trap. War brings nothing. We want peace and we want to live together, regardless of our skin colour, or our ethnicity. We want to develop our country together.